In her latest piece, TomDispatch regular Andrea Mazzarino peers into an ominously all(un?)-American future in which Donald Trump could emerge from his deep state of confusion to once again become president of the United States. And this time he could do so in a way that would make the previous four-year excursion seem like a holiday trip to… well… Mars. We’re talking, of course, about the former president for whom the term “pardon me” gained a new and far less polite meaning. As Beth Reinhard, Manuel Roig-Franzia, and Clara Ence Morse pointed out recently in the Washington Post, “Never before had a president used his constitutional clemency powers to free or forgive so many people who could be useful to his future political efforts.” And useful many of them are now proving to be.
Let me add just one thing to Mazzarino’s analysis of an American future that could all too literally take us to hell and back: were Donald Trump to become president for four more years in a country where oil and natural gas production has already gone through the roof, he could help ensure that everyone on this planet will be living in a true hell on earth. Keep in mind that we’re talking about the fellow who describes the devastation of climate change this way: “When I see these people talking about global warming, where the ocean will rise by 1/100th of an inch over the next 350 years…”
Of course, if he had no chance of taking back the White House, that would be a joke and a half, especially since global sea levels are already rising by 1/8th of an inch annually and, if the heating of this planet is limited to (god save us!) 2 degrees Celsius, the sea level near Mar-a-Lago could rise nearly three feet in the next quarter century or so!
Meanwhile, the right-wing think tanks that, as Mazzarino points out, are already hard at work on a Trump second term have produced a plan that climate scientist Michael Mann suggests “would block efforts underway to scale up renewable energy and create a clean energy grid. It would defund climate programs at the Environmental Protection Agency and clean energy efforts at the Department of Energy. It would also bar other states from adopting California’s clean energy policies and put the fossil fuel industry fox in the environmental henhouse by turning over regulation of polluters to Republican state legislatures.”
So, keep in mind as you read today’s piece that Donald Trump, who’s been courting the oil and gas industry barons in this election season by promising “to open up more federal lands to drilling, support pipeline projects such as Keystone XL, and reinstate oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” almost literally breathes nothing but CO2. Now, let Mazzarino take you into a second-time-around version of a Trumpian hell on earth. Tom
Replacing the “Deep State” from Depths All His Own
Recently, on a commuter train, I ran into an acquaintance who works for a government agency here in Washington, D.C. Soon after we started chatting, he indicated a desire to switch jobs in case Donald Trump was reelected president in 2024. “I’d like to be somewhere that Trump wouldn’t be able to politicize,” my buddy said. I listened as he mused about which government institutions would remain well-funded despite Trump’s desire to destroy “the deep state.”
“Maybe I’ll work for the Department of Defense,” my companion finally suggested all too logically.
I can see just where he’s coming from since, during Trump’s first term, with some notable exceptions, “his” generals made it a point to stick to the Constitution rather than allow “their” president to govern by tweet. I also believe that, whoever’s in office, politicians from both sides of the aisle won’t hesitate to continue to fund the Pentagon in their usual profligate fashion (regardless of the long-term human and financial costs of doing so).
My friend’s plans instantly provoked my sense of cynicism. During Trump’s first term, the only thing standing between him and a political takeover of the Pentagon was the mistaken conviction that his appointees would show ultimate fealty to him rather than the rule of law. He’s already threatened the former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, whom he saw as disloyal, with death in a second Trump term. Now he knows one thing: he needs to loyalty-test anyone in a future administration of his ahead of time.
With all of this on my mind, I turned to my friend and said, “I think you should just get out of government. Why not go to the nonprofit sector?” After a pause, I added, “Voters like us also better show up so he doesn’t get reelected.”
Being the ethical public servant he is, he simply responded, “It’s not really our choice” and changed the subject. Feeling grateful that we still live in a society that, at least theoretically, respects the political neutrality of public officials, I shut up.
But I’ll say one thing about that future of ours: there are all too many intelligent Americans discussing the next election as though their own lives won’t change if Donald Trump wins a second term. As a military spouse, a clinical social worker who treats war-affected military families, and a scholar of war and political violence, I’m no stranger to the ways autocratic leaders can upend daily life, particularly during times of war when people thirst for meaning.
I’m thinking about our very own country, which, 22 years later, thanks to its never-ending post-9/11 “war on terror,” still has ongoing military operations in some 78 countries, making violence — and the gaping holes it leaves in American communities and our federal budget — this country’s endless new normal. But I also know that it could get much worse.
From the heart of our empire with its legions of injured, stressed-out, and broken troops and veterans, I’ve watched Trump demean and threaten institutions like our free press and public health agencies that still prop up what’s left of our American way of life. And I worry.
Doing in “the Deep State” (and You)
In July 2022, as a former president, The Donald predicted that, in a Trumpian future, the “deep state” would be dismantled and “we will pass critical reforms making every executive branch employee fireable by the president of the United States.” And believe me, that won’t be all. Privileges you and I take for granted — like being able to get our health care paid for by insurance companies — could disappear if Trump were to retake the presidency in 2024.
Perhaps you’ve noticed that, since he lost the last election, he and his cronies have been working with the ultra-right think tank the Heritage Foundation, along with dozens of other like-minded groups, to create Project 2025, an alarming plan for a potential second Trump term. It’s aimed at rescuing “the country from the grip of the radical Left” and turning the presidency into something approaching an autocracy. As part of that plan, his far-right allies are already screening some 20,000 potential MAGA appointees to be placed in every agency across the federal government.
Currently, a president can legally fill about 4,000 federal political appointments. In a second term, however, Trump plans to use an executive order to put an additional 50,000 such jobs into the same category. People who have spent their careers making sure that crucial services are delivered to American homes, that research benefiting the public good is conducted, and that people get to school and work safely could be replaced by those whose most crucial qualification would be loyalty to Trump and his whims.
And don’t think that my concern here is based solely on my obvious left-leaning political affiliations: career public servants of every sort are simply more effective than private companies (no less future Trump political appointees) because they know how to distribute resources safely and quickly to hundreds of millions of people. They are also more responsive to the public.
Take health care, for example. So many of us are dependent upon the whims of private companies for it. Only a thin veneer of government bureaucracy ensures that insurance companies comply with the law so that we all can visit a doctor when we need to. As a therapist, I’ve spent months trying to contact individuals in two private companies charged with administering taxpayer funds to Medicaid, Medicare, and the Veterans Administration. My claims weren’t getting paid until I finally contacted two of my federal congressional representatives who dispatched staff members to contact those companies. Within days, thousands of dollars of back pay landed in my bank account and I was able to continue my work with patients.
And consider that only a taste of what could come in a second Trump era. The same goes for other things we take for granted like the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture ensuring that medications and food on our store shelves don’t make us sick. Our often over-nourished bodies would become sicker, more vulnerable, and more worn down if it weren’t for that “deep state” Trump seeks to replace from depths all his own.
The Ground Beneath Our Feet
And the privileges of being American would become all the harder to access because our roads, bridges, tunnels, and water systems would only further deteriorate, instead of continuing to experience the green revival they’re undergoing thanks to a Biden administration infusion of cash. Under a second Trump presidency, count on initiatives requiring work and scientific expertise (rather than just bluster) not getting done. After all, his main economic campaign promise in 2016 was to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure like roads in America’s aging Rust Belt. In the process, he swore that he would bring back blue-collar manufacturing jobs. In reality, after his four years in office, spending on physical infrastructure like roads and bridges had stagnated.
And how about the infrastructure that protects the safety of our groundwater? Spending on clean water during the Trump administration fell to a 30-year low. In 2018, a major federal study reporting on groundwater contamination found that harmful chemicals called perfluoroalkyls, or PFAS, had already contaminated roughly 1% of the nation’s groundwater supply — disproportionately in military and veteran communities. Here, Trump’s appointees didn’t even pretend to do good. Instead, his White House tried to suppress the report and when the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry put it out anyway, the Trump Environmental Protection Agency’s response was to use administration-appointed scientists to write a new report minimizing the potentially harmful effects of PFAS.
Trump also rolled back a key 1970 law requiring that new infrastructure projects abide by environmental regulations that preserve wildlife and waterways, while avoiding further contamination of the environment — a change that disproportionately affected minority and military communities. All told, these and other environmental rollbacks led to thousands of more deaths annually due to pollution.
At stake in allowing our infrastructure to crumble is, of course, the condition of roads, bridges, clean drinking water, and so much else affecting everyday life. After all, to mention just one of so many problems, if roads are poor, people can’t get to the hospital as easily, which can mean the difference between life and death.
Enemy of the People
Trump has also made it clear that he sees those who oppose him politically as “vermin” and has pledged to destroy people who fall into that category. He has dehumanized journalists, in particular, calling them the “enemy of the people,” “dishonest,” “corrupt,” and “low-life reporters.” He’s questioned their truthfulness and sanctioned physical violence against them through memes like one he posted on Twitter of himself beating up a figure with a CNN logo superimposed on his face.
During Trump’s first term, his stream of verbal attacks on members of the press led to credible threats toward news organizations, among other figures whose lives, not just their ability to do their jobs, were endangered. After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, Trump stated at a rally that the journalists who had reported in advance on that decision should reveal their informants or face future rape in prison. And in a second Trump term, with the government and federal law enforcement reorganized along distinctly Trumpian lines, who would be there to block such horrors?
Working to destroy a free press would also, of course, have life (and death) implications. A simple case in point from recent years: after Covid vaccines became available to the public in early 2021, excess mortality in red states, where many believed Republican disinformation campaigns about such shots, soared more than a third higher than in blue states. Now imagine that happening at a national level.
It’s disturbing to contemplate what, in a second Trump administration, a chilling of the mediasphere could mean. Let me take an example close to my own heart. Military family members have relied heavily on our ability to access one another’s writings and social media posts to find validation and support for our daily struggles, involving constant moves, the mental anguish of loved ones, financial struggles, and isolation. In our world, any time a deranged Trump supporter threatens someone they disagree with, they puncture an already fragile social safety net of information-sharing and support among this country’s war-beleaguered troops and veterans. And in a second Trump era, that could happen to all of us on a national level.
The Threat from Within
Threats from the former president and his supporters would undoubtedly have real teeth in a second Trump term. Since the January 6th riots, it’s been no secret that the military, the Department of Homeland Security, and local and federal law enforcement agencies include significant numbers of extremists who sympathize with far-right groups that exhibit racist and anti-Semitic views. And keep in mind that members of the Republican Party have already successfully pressured the military not to screen its ranks for just such types.
Now, imagine an America in which Donald Trump has installed his own loyalists — and this time around they will indeed be loyal to him — in the top ranks of the Pentagon. As Axios recently reported, Pentagon officials speaking under anonymity have voiced concerns about the Trump-allied Heritage Foundation’s plan to “prioritize the core roles and responsibilities of the military over social engineering and non-defense related matters, including climate change, critical race theory [and] manufactured extremism.” They read into that plan’s very vagueness on the subject Trump’s intention to dramatically alter the role of the military in American life, including the possibility of employing the Insurrection Act — and so that very military — on his first day in office to suppress any civil demonstrations against him.
Electing Trump and crew, intent as they are on sowing hostility and contempt for the institutions of government, means putting into office those who embrace a future culture of violence. He and his supporters remind me of a family friend who, when we were little, used to get angry at me if I was beating him at checkers. I recall him flipping over our board the minute it became clear that my next move would mean victory for me.
The adults in our lives used to try to contain his rage by comforting him and, like sycophantic members of the Republican Party today, they effectively nurtured a bully. That kid would, in fact, grow up to become a federal law enforcement official who would indeed come under investigation for hateful social media posts. Under Trump round two, vigilantes with grudges like his would find a role model in the Oval Office and we would all face the repercussions.
If you don’t want violence to explode inside our borders against people like you and me, then each of us should do our damnedest to ensure that a candidate who prioritizes revenge over those who protect law and order, tell the truth, work hard, and play fair doesn’t make it into the Oval Office a second time. Otherwise, it’s likely that the solid ground afforded us by our imperfect union will be pulled from beneath our feet and it will be all too hard to reassemble the pieces.
Copyright 2023 Andrea Mazzarino